In the last few weeks, we looked at how Jesus and the apostles ministered deliverance. Today, I thought I’d share my experience at the Universal Church, which is a church organization (denomination?) based in Brazil.
I Didn’t Like The Universal Church!
Many people speak against the Universal church in Brazil. The criticism often has to do with the prosperity teaching and money.
I didn’t like them either. First of all, I don’t have a problem with prosperity but I hate manipulation surrounding giving. And I consider it a very serious wrong to ever connect healing or deliverance with a person’s giving. Besides that, sitting as a spectator in a Mega-church isn’t my cup of tea. I like to participate.
I also had confused them with Universalists. Universalists teach that everybody will eventually be saved, and some of them teach that there’s more than one way to get to God. I’m don’t like that.
I try to avoid making hasty or premature judgements, but I have to admit that’s exactly what I did with the Universal Church. It’s still not all my cup of tea, but I’ve realized that I can learn something from them. I’m not into all their gimmicks either, but I do have to admit, they help to keep people engaged.
My wife had also judged them prematurely, but now she’s going regularly. I’ve gone with her a few times.
They are not Universalists. I had just gotten the terms confused. Some of the criticism about manipulation with offerings is deserved, but it’s not the whole picture. And what I saw wasn’t as extreme as what I heard about.
I don’t agree with all the doctrine, but few of us agree on every doctrinal point. They do have some manipulation in taking the offering, but what I saw honestly wasn’t much different than many large churches. It wasn’t of the kind that attaches giving to healing or deliverance, and even though I really don’t like it, it doesn’t negate the good.
In fact, when a person gives a testimony of their healing or deliverance from demons, they often ask “How much did it cost you?” The person says “Nothing.” So they are making it clear that those things are free gifts. That’s good. As far as I know, they are the only church doing much ministry in prisons and they are doing a lot to help the poor.
So much so that a thief stole a woman’s car but he apologized and returned it when he saw something from the Universal church in her car. As much as other churches may criticize them, they’ve gained the respect of the poor and even some criminals. We’ve even heard the testimonies of some Christians who spoke against them, and then ended up going there for help.
A Unique Group
The Universal Church in Del Castilho is a huge complex with various buildings, including restaurants. The main auditorium is a half-circle stadium that seats 10,000 people. They have multiple meetings every single day of the week, and they’re packed.
The church encourages people to start businesses, and they have an entrepreneurs’ meeting, in which they give business tips and pray for businesses. Some members are very rich, but the church focuses a lot on ministry to the poor. They also focus a lot on ministering to people who have become demonized through witchcraft and spells. They have regular deliverance meetings.
On Sunday the four-story garage is so packed that you don’t put on the handbrake when you park. People parallel-park in front of the other cars parked in the regular parking, and then the security guards need to roll the cars back and forth to let out the people they are blocking at the end of the service. It’s a real mess, but it made me laugh!
How They Minister Deliverance
The thing I like at the Universal Church is how aggressive they are at ministering deliverance. They sing and preach forcefully, proclaiming Jesus’ work and challenging every force of evil oppressing the people. In the meetings, we regularly hear screams coming from people around the auditorium as they manifest demons. I’ve seen many deliverances happen with mild or little manifestation, but I’ve never seen so many where the demon manifested speaking through people in a low, growling voice as at the Universal Church.
One thing they’ve been doing lately is turning off all the lights and holding a spotlight behind the pastor. He moves his arm so that the shadow passes over the whole building, including the top and bottom stadium levels. As the shadow passes, we hear screams coming from people falling down, demonized. Then they minister deliverance. Some of the people they bring up front. Although the demon speaks, the person isn’t always aware of what’s going on and it’s like their hands are tied behind their back.
We’ve heard so many testimonies of people who were set from oppressive spirits at meetings like this. Those testimonies show long-term results. Many are of people who were on drugs or cheating on their spouse, and now they have a happy and healthy marriage.
My observation, in comparing this approach to other Christian groups I’ve seen, is how simple it was to set them free. I think it mirrors, a little bit, how simple it was for Jesus when he cast the legion out of the Gadarene demoniac, and cast out demons “with a word.” The life change followed the deliverance. Some Christians would have tried to minister to these people as if they thought the life change needed to precede the deliverance!
They also have special meetings for people addicted to drugs, and they treat it as a deliverance as well. Since they are reaching many spiritualists, they call it a “spiritual treatment” or a “light treatment,” but the treatment is the authority of Christ! They bring up people who are craving drugs or tobacco, minister deliverance, and then put the substance in their face for them to smell. The thing they craved a minute before now makes them want to puke! And we’ve heard testimonies quite a while later of people who were set free from addictions by deliverance ministry at the Universal Church.
I’d already had just a few similar experience praying for people with addictions, but I’d never seen this happen so regularly! Seeing this at the Universal Church has really encouraged my faith to believe for the same thing.
Here’s another observation. Some people would think such an approach to helping addicts is way too simplistic, but can they replicate the results? Of course, discipleship and follow-up are valuable. But over-complicating things can keep us from actually ministering in the power of the gospel.
The subjects of healing and deliverance are closely related and often intersect. Scripture tells of how crowds thronged Jesus, begging to touch even the hem of his garment and everyone who touched it was healed.
“Everyone who touched is was healed” means that nobody touched it and wasn’t healed. Nobody touched Jesus’ garment and it didn’t work because their issue was too complicated for a simple touch to resolve! If that was true of Jesus, then what do the “greater works” that he’s called us to look like?
Somebody can tell me a story of a person who was healed after forgiving someone who wronged them. Well, I rejoice that they were healed! It can happen that way. But I also remember the story of a lady with stage-four cancer who continued in drunkenness, bitterness, and unforgiveness for weeks after she was healed. It was only when she realized she was healed that her heart softened, the alcoholism fell away, and she forgave others.
You can tell me a story of deliverance from Obsessive-compulsive disorder as a person underwent counseling and examining wrong beliefs. If someone got free, I rejoice! It can happen that way. But I also remember how it felt like no amount of counseling could help me but I was delivered from Obsessive-compulsive disorder (and probably a ton of other stuff with it) as I had one tangible encounter with God’s glory. For every person you can think of who got healed or delivered after dealing with an issue, there are others for whom the resolution of the same issue followed the healing or deliverance rather than preceding it. So let’s not let methods stand in the way of faith. A greater manifestation of God’s glory means things get easier!
In spite of the fact that not everything at the Universal Church is my cup of tea, they have some long-lasting fruit of people getting set free in a way that’s far simpler than some believe it can be. Even so, the Universal Church is only worth imitating to the extent that they imitate Jesus. Jesus is the standard.
Next week we’ll examine the difference between a demon having a “legal right” and a “foothold.”